There was once a time when two farm boys from the same Podunk county in rural South Dakota went off to war.
Although this county was no doubt small in population, these two boys never got around to meeting each other. Instead, it wasn’t until many years after World War II that a fortuitous occasion led to their paths crossing.
It was about 20 years ago when Richard “Dick” Glad was riding along with a friend to go purchase livestock feed from a Mr. Sherman McCarlson. When the two Day County, So. Dak. (pop. 5,521) residents began chatting, they came to a seemingly astronomical realization.
In 1945, Marine Cpl. Sherman McCarlson and Navy medic Richard Glad both stormed the beaches of Iwo Jima, a battle that saw more than 26,000 American casualties, including almost 7,000 killed in action. The Japanese, meanwhile, suffered significant losses. Nearly 19,000 went dead or missing.
Working as a general assignment reporter for the Reporter & Farmer, a small weekly based in Webster, So. Dak., it was in early 2016 I found myself on assignment in McCarlson’s prairie house living room, speaking with both McCarlson and Glad.
At the age of 95, McCarlson was essentially drifting in and out of consciousness as he reclined back in his chair. Glad, sitting upright in his chair, not yet fully encumbered by old age, looked through an old photo album, which looked like priceless momentos of his military days.
Ever since these two gentlemen figured out they were in the same iconic battle, even though they were from the same extremely sparse, Midwestern community, they’ve gathered to commemorate this rare common bond.
Seriously, when you actually try to calculate the odds of this, it can only be extrapolated through the term “miracle.”
It was at this indelible moment of my young journalism career, I got a front-row seat inside the mind of a man who experienced first hand what the fighting was like before he witnessed the Raising of the Flag.
Since Glad was a tad more coherent, he mostly spoke for the both of ‘em.
“At 9 a.m., our ship crept closer and closer to hell,” Glad told me of the initial invasion. “There were bullets going over my head. There were mortar shells coming and going.”
Glad then told me he was armed with an automatic carbine, a first aid kit loaded with painkillers, bandages, tourniquets and everything else to prevent bleeding. He also said he kept a bottle of whiskey to help ease the suffering of the wounded.
His main duty was to bring the wounded from the front lines to shore and load them onto outgoing ships. During this, he made sure that he wasn’t wearing a red cross.
“We used to take ‘em off because the Japanese were using it as a target,” Glad continued. “Their sense of life had no meaning to them. Death was a sacrifice.”
According to McCarlson’s family, McCarlson landed ashore on the second day of the invasion. As a machine gunner, he fought for 26 consecutive days, fighting the thousands of Japanese fighters housed in Mt. Suribachi. He was one of two Marines from his 13-man unit to step off the island.
“I don’t know how we did it, but we did,” McCarlson managed to tell me.
Glad recalled the suicide “banzai” attacks.
“They came and had a banzai attack in our camp,” He said. “They came in perfect marching order, and when they came to our area they spread all over the place, running on top of the foxholes.”
And, on Feb. 23, 1945, Glad saw the Raising of the Flag on Iwo Jima, an immortalized moment of American history, captured by Associated Press photographer Joseph Rosenthal.
“We were just below there when the flags went up,” said Glad. “When I saw the flag, everyone just cheered. You could see it from the deck of the ship.”
After the war, Glad went on to become longtime school superintendent, while McCarlson didn’t retire from farming until the age of 92.
Unfortunately, it would only be a few months after that interview that Glad would die in his sleep. As for McCarlson, meanwhile, I have yet discovered any obituaries with his name on it.
As I look back, though, I was honored and happy I was granted the opportunity, on that particular day, in that particular part of the world, to have spoken with a Mr. Sherman McCarlson and a Mr. Richard “Dick” Glad.
Those two names pop into my head every so often, and not just on Veteran’s Day.